Directed Attention Fatigue and Restoration

Natural Steps Toward Restoration
While sleep is the basis of restoration, there are also activities that you can do while awake that have been proven restorative.

The most striking of these are walking and playing in nature.

Who would have thought that something so simple could have such a profound impact.

Even as little as a 20 minute walk, three times a week can make a big difference. Dr. Cimprich found that this was enough to help her cancer patients cope better with their diagnosis, make better decisions, and participate more effectively in their care. (Cimprich, B.)

A view of nature out a window was in itself enough to be restorative for office workers and other prisoners. (Kaplan. R.)

Playing in nature not only helped children with Attention Fatigue, it even helped children with ADHD, once thought to be quite resistant to non-drug interventions. (Kuo. F.)

Walking or playing in nature—any activity which is supported by the natural environment, rather than at odds with it, has a number of ways of reducing Directed Attention.

1. Save It for a Rainy Day
First, such activities immediately reduce the rate at which you use Directed Attention.

You usually don’t have to concentrate in the usual sense during a walk in the park.

Instead, when you do pay attention, you typically use other attention systems, such as involuntary attention—such as when you hear noises, see wildlife, climb over obstructions, or explore new areas. Or you play hide and seek, roll down hills, chase each other, throw a stick for your dog.

Even if there’s danger—a bear jumps out of the fishpond, for example, your old fashioned built-in involuntary attention is ready and willing and extremely capable of giving you all the attention you need to deal with the situation. In fact, it is finely tuned for just such occurrences.

While walking in nature in less exciting circumstances, you also use soft fascination—watching water, listening to the sound of wind in the branches, skipping, singing, experience the rhythm of your stride.

2. Dances with Trees
Second, we are built to think online in nature, to interact smoothly with the environment. Something is in your way, you go around it. Something is strange, you investigate or avoid it. Once you know which berries are good to eat, you automatically know how to find and pick them. You might use a stick to scratch away something on the ground, or climb a rock or a tree to see in the distance. It may not be easy, it may take work, but these are things we have gotten very good at over bazillions of years. As contrasted to this picky tricky concentration stuff.

3. The Joys of Muscle Fatigue
Third, walking and playing in nature makes us physically tired, and that promotes sleep. In fact, one cause of our epidemic of Directed Attention Fatigue may arise because many of our modern activities lead us to mental tiredness before we get physically tired. If we could not keep our eyes open and just fell asleep when we got mentally fatigued, that would take care of a lot of the problem, but that’s not the case.

Walking in nature helps restore that balance.


Cimprich B. (1993) Development of an intervention to restore attention in cancer patients. Cancer Nurs. 1993 Apr;16(2):83-92.

Kaplan, Rachel, Kaplan, Stephen, Ryan, Robert, (1998) With People in Mind: Design And Management Of Everyday Nature, Island Press, 1998

Kaplan, Rachel; Kaplan, Stephen;(1989) The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective, Cambridge University Press, 1989

Kuo, F. E. Kuo and A. Faber Taylor, (2004) A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study, Am J Public Health, September 1, 2004; 94(9): 1580 - 1586

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© 2006-2008 S. Beadle
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